Sunday, 31 December 2017

My 2018 to-do list


I've done my look back at the year but in reality, I'm already looking forward to 2018, plotting and making plans. I'm not one for new year's resolutions - the way I see it, if you want to change something about yourself, why wait until 1 January? Why have your last cigarette, or piece of cake, or pint of beer on 31 December, if it's something you've wanted to give up since September? (Important note: I don't indulge in two out of these three things, and I'm certainly not planning to give up the third).

Instead, I prefer to have goals - a solid list of goals that can be ticked off one by one, because really, is there anything more motivating than a to-do list waiting to be ticked off? Here's my list as it looks at the start of 2018:

Find a new flat


I'm almost 27 years old and I currently live with my mum.  My mum is lovely and I enjoy living there, but I refer you back to my first point: I'm almost 27 years old. I shouldn't be living with family any more. It's a temporary situation, born out of having to get out of an unhappy living situation in London, but it's in danger of becoming permanent.

So, I'm hoping to find my own flat to rent in the area in the early part of this year. I'm past the stage of living with flatmates, and am really looking forward to having my own space. What's more, now that I feel a lot more settled, I'd like it to be a long-term home, not just another temporary space. I've viewed a couple of flats already, but they weren't quite suitable - come on 2018, do your thing.

Start running again

Ha. Cast your minds back to 2015 and you may remember that I signed up for a half marathon. I did a few solid months of training, staying more committed than I thought I would, and was building up my distance ready to take on the half marathon. And best of all, I was (whisper it)... enjoying it.

Then some personal stuff happened and I gave up running very suddenly - that half marathon never happened. Since then, I've only been running occasionally, on days when I've got excess energy I need to burn off, or I need to relieve some stress by pounding the pavements.

I'd like to be able to run a solid 10k by the end of 2018. I was almost up to that distance when I gave up last time, so I'd like to get there again. No time pressures or goals, just running that far without collapsing. If I can do that at least once this year, that's a big tick on the 2018 list.

Take a trip to Edinburgh



I've wanted to take a solo trip to Edinburgh for a few years now, an idea that came out of wanting to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. I did some research, and there are plenty of other things I'd like to do in Edinburgh too, but for one reason and another (money, time, the decision between getting the train or flying) I've been putting it off.

Why solo? Because the me that flew to South Africa alone five years ago doesn't seem to exist anymore. I had an absolute ball on that trip, and was proud of myself for doing it alone, so I'm easing myself back into the idea of solo travel gently. If Edinburgh goes well, who knows what solo trips will be on my 2019 list?

Visit a new place each month

You know what baffles me? People who claim to love travelling, but have barely seen any of their own country. They've been to the Maldives, but not Manchester, Barbados, but not Bath. I don't want to be one of those people, so I'm making it my goal this year to visit a new town or city every month. Some will be daytrips, others may be weekend breaks. Hopefully Edinburgh will be one of them. They may not be the most glamorous or far-flung of places (budget and free time will be a huge factor), but they'll be towns I haven't visited before. I'll be documenting it all on here, and on Twitter and Instagram - and I'm open to suggestions too.

A trip to Hertford in 2016. More of the same in 2018 please.

Visit the Harry Potter Studios

This is another one that's been on my list for years. The plan is to read all of the Harry Potter books, then watch all the films, then go to the Studios. Hands up: this was also my plan last year, but I read about a quarter of the first book, then got distracted by other books, and never came back to it. #MustTryHarder.

So there you have it - my 2018 checklist:

* Find a flat
* Visit Edinburgh
* Run 10k
* Visit 12 new places (including Edinburgh)
* Visit the Harry Potter studios


 Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see how I'm getting on, and fire over any suggestions for places to visit in the UK.

Friday, 29 December 2017

The whole picture: a look back at my 2017


As I come to write that old blogger cliche end of year post, I had a look at what I'd posted as my goals for the start of the year - and it turns out I didn't write any. For someone as list-loving and goal-oriented as me, this seems surprising, but hey ho.

So much has changed this year, it's hard to think back to what I was thinking and how I was feeling on 1 January, and guess what my goals might have been. I certainly wouldn't have visualised that I would have moved twice, and be back living in Tonbridge now. By this time last year, I hadn't even thought about moving out of where I was living then, in Peckham. The first move was to Nunhead, to a flat that I thought might be a bit more permanent, but for several reasons, it wasn't to be. That triggered my decision to move back to Kent. And six months later, here I am still.



There were two main lows of 2017 for me. The first was having my phone snatched right out of my hand by thieves on bikes on a busy street in Peckham. It's now nine months since that happened and I've been though a whole spectrum of emotions about it; shock, sadness at losing photos, gratitude that they didn't pull a knife on me. I've mainly let it go now and written it off as one of those things, but on the odd occasion that it does cross my mind, I mainly feel anger; anger at the fact that they felt they had the right to help themselves to something I'd worked hard too pay for - but when that happens, I visualise myself kicking them right off their bikes and into the road. Petty, but it helps.

The second low was a long, drawn-out battle with a dodgy landlord to get a deposit back. It's a long story involving sleepless nights, hundreds of pounds that was rightfully mine, and the threat of a legal battle, but I won in the end - not before it had cast an omipresent shadow over almost three months of my year though.


Reading back what I've written here so far, I realise it sounds like I've had a pretty rubbish 2017, but that's not the case. So often, what we see on blogs and social media is the polished, unblemished half of the story. I just think it's important to be honest and tell the whole truth, warts, muggings and all.

So moving around has been a big part of my year, but what else has happened? There's not been one big thing - no new job, or buying a flat, or Lottery win, or taking six months off to go travelling. My Prince Charming has yet to make his appearance (if you're reading this, I'd be grateful if you could make yourself known sooner rather than later), but that's all OK.


The joy in this year has been about the little things: posing for photos with an inflatable flamingo called Merlin on a bridge in Amsterdam; going off-grid in the Lake District for three days with friends I've known for more than half my life; spotting dolphins in the wild.  But if you're looking for one big achievement of the year, it's this: I've got a far better idea of what I want out of life than I did this time last year. I know where I want to live, what sort of job makes me happy (pretty much what I'm doing now, which is handy), who my real friends are, and what I'm doing with this blog. I know that the London life isn't for me, but I'd miss London too much if I didn't work there. I know that I'm not one for big nights out, but meals with close friends in a favourite restaurant is one of the best ways to spend an evening.

So 2017 may not have been a year in which I ticked many boxes - at least not the conventional ones - but I end the year in a better place than I started it, which has given me a good, solid base to begin one heck of a 2018.

See also: My 2017 in 13 Instagram posts

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The whole picture: December 2017

Miss my November round-up? Catch up here.

Enjoying the work Christmas party. Photo by Matt Brown.

What I've done in December

December was a month of two halves: the first half was busy busy with Christmas drinks, parties, work events and the like. Then, the week before Christmas I turned the page of my diary to a very welcome fortnight of near nothingness.

The busy-ness involved going to two different lantern festivals; Glow Wild at Wakehurst Place was a late birthday present for my mum, a gentle wander through the botanical gardens, complete with floating laterns and a fire river. A little further afield, a weekend away at Longleat combined two of my favourite things: lions and lanterns:

Elsewhere it was Christmas parties and drinks with friends and former colleagues, a quiet weekend away with family and a bit of Christmas shopping.

I have a bit of a tradition for that weird period between Christmas and New Year, where I have a good old clean out, tidy up, polish and clear out of my room .We're talking two our three solid days of scrubbing skirting boards and dusting shelves trying clothes on and donating old ones to charity, and generally getting rid of all the old junk accumulated throughout the year. I like to see in the new year with a clean, uncluttered room and a clean, uncluttered mind.

What I've eaten in December

What haven't I eaten (she wrote, stuffing her face with the Christmas cheese)?  The month kicked off with a trip to Bodeans, a smokehouse restaurant that I've wanted to try for ages, predominantly in my continued quest for London's best buffalo chicken. Don't get too excited lads, this definitely wasn't it - the dried, unbattered bit of meat that was served up barely deserves to be called buffalo chicken. As you were.

The most exciting thing I've eaten this month is the ostrich I had at my work Christmas meal at Shaka Zulu in Camden. The restaurant itself is... bizarre. Think African tribal meets Las Vegas tat, and you're about there. The ostrich was beautifully cooked in a peppercorn crust, but I was so distracted by what was going on around me (Dancers! Fire eaters!) that I didn't even think about taking a photo (#terribleblogger).

What's coming up?

Sunset over Tonbridge on one of the last days of 2017. Insert your own cliche about watching the sun set on another year.

New year, new start. I'm not one for new year's resolutions - the way I see it, if you want to make a change, why wait until 1 January to get on with it? I do, however, have a few things I'd like to do in 2018, and I'll be sharing them on a blog post over the next few days, so watch this space.

Follow me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to keep up to date with next month's antics as they happen.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

My 2017 in 13 Instagram posts



Well that's a wrap on another year. Another year of pizzas and cakes, sunsets and city breaks - or so my Instagram feed would have you believe. You can follow me here for the full picture, but here are the edited highlights of my 2017 on Instagram.

January

The year began with a trip to Chiswick House on a freezing cold night to see the much talked-about Lantern Festival. The event was a bit of a mixed bag, but the lanterns themselves were beautiful:



February

February's highlight was a fortnight in Agadir, on the coast of Morocco. Apart from a minor earthquake, it was a relaxing holiday in a gorgeous hotel, the highlight of which was the nightly sunset. The beach which our hotel was on faced due west, meaning fantastic sunsets every evening. I'm seriously considering booking all future holidays based on which way the hotel faces.


March

Until 2017, autumn was always my favourite season, but this year the bright colours of spring won me over. This one was taken on my first proper lunch break of spring, when I wandered up to Shoreditch Park and snapped away among the daffodils. It's always a good day when I wear my Batman shoes.


On a less bright note, March was also the month I got mugged, and this here is the last photo I posted from the phone I had stolen.

April

Amsterdam was the highlight of April. It's somewhere I'd wanted to go for a while, and we chose April when the flowers were at their best. This was probably my favourite snap from the holiday though - I can never resist a camper van.


May

By May, I'd realised that my love-hate relationship with London was extremely complicated and had decided to move out of the city. Then, on the way back from an evening out, this stunning sunset presented itself to me, and I remembered all over again why I love London.


June


Knowing I was moving out of London really piled the pressure on to do all the things I'd wanted to do while living there. One of them was a trip to God's Own Junkyard, a neon art warehouse right out on the end of the Victoria line in Walthamstow.


July


The first weekend of July saw me combining two of my passions - big cats and photography - for a photography day at the Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden, Kent. I'd been shooting on my camera all day, but my favourite photo was this one, taken on my phone just minutes before I left, after I'd packed my camera away.


I'm gonna cheat and throw two pictures in for July. It was a big month for me, the month I finally moved out of London and back to Tonbridge, where I now know I want to be. This photo here is one of my favourites I took this year, partly because it was completely unplanned - I was just shooting pictures of the lavender fields when this kid ran down one of the aisles and opened the umbrella.

But I've also put this picture in here because it reminds me of how I was feeling back then - free, after living in a rather repressive situation for three months, full of hope and excitement about what was next - and how I wish I could've bottled a bit of that feeling for times when I could do with reminding of it.


August

On a boat, with a dog. What could possibly go wrong? (Thankfully, the worst that happened was the sudden, torrential downpour that roared into sight as we were settling down for a picnic lunch on the river bank. Cue a mad dash for the safety of the boat).


September

September's big adventure was a trip to Bulgaria. A few problems with the hotel put a minor dampener on the holiday, but the highlight was a trip to Nessebar (including seeing dolphins swimming wild in the Black Sea).


October

Just when I thought my travels for the year were done, I was invited to spend a weekend in the Lake District with some friends. I cannot believe I've never been to this part of my own country before - it really is as stunning as everyone says. Mental note to go back for longer, with a car to see more, in the very near future. In the mean time, here's the extremely impressive hot chocolate I had in Granny Dowbekin's cafe in Pooley Bridge on the last morning. Yes, those are Maltesers, and yes, that is a spoon made of chocolate.

November

One of my favourite things about Christmas in London is Christmas at Kew. Every year, those wizards at Kew Gardens put on a spectacular light festival, and this year was the best yet. Each installation is synchronised and choreographed perfectly to music - see more photos here.


December

Ah, December, you've been a mad one, what with weekends away, Christmas parties, lantern festivals, drinks with friends, and then the big day itself. But I've spent a lot of time looking forward to 2018, including a trip to Cuba. Now things have calmed down a bit, I must sit down and do some proper planning. Any tips for things to see and do in Havana or Varadero? Let me know in the comments or tweet me.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A first look at Glow Wild at Wakehurst Place

Not saying I've got an obsession with light festivals or anything, but hot on the heels of my trip to Christmas at Kew, I headed to Wakehurst, its sister site in Sussex, for the lantern festival Glow Wild.

After the magic of Kew, I was expecting fantastic things from Wakehurst and in its own, subtle way, it didn't disappoint.


The trail begins at the base of the Christmas tree, the largest in the UK apparently, and use by pilots navigating their way into nearby Gatwick Airport. Take your own lantern to guide your round the trail and from here, a lamp-lined path weaves through the trees, each decked out in their own way.


Various woodland creatures are recreated in lantern form along the route, adding the 'wild' to the festival's name. The first major 'wow' moment comes courtesy of the lake, which is sprinkled with colourful lanterns, creating perfect reflections on a still, dark night. The Christmas tree looming over it only adds to the sense of scale and grandeur.


It only gets better around the next corner, where a stream has been transformed into a literal river of fire. Hundreds of naked flames have been placed on the stream, which flows down into a lake at the bottom. The photos really don't do it justice.

From here, the trail takes a convoluted wander before turning back towards the house, via a fire garden.

It's hard to miss another highlight; the light projections on the house itself. It's fantastic, with absolutely everyone rooted to the spot, entranced by it before being able to move on. Again, I found myself comparing it to the fantastic laser projection show at Kew, which is in a whole other league.

The trail ends here, the path opening up into a market square type area in the courtyard with food and drink stalls, and crafts for the kids.

Glow Wild at Wakehurst doesn't have quite as much oomph behind it as Christmas at Kew, but that's not to say it disappoints. It's a well-thought out, charming way to wile away an hour or so, albeit aimed more at young families than adults alone. Some will appreciate its calmer, slower approach to winter, but for me, it's all about the all-singing, all-dancing wonder of Kew this year.

Glow Wild at Wakehurst Place runs 30 November-17 December 2017, but tickets are now sold out.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The whole picture: November 2017

Miss my October round-up? Catch up here.


What I've done in November

The fact that I've not published my end of November round-up until 2 December tells you all you need to know about the last month; busy, busy, busy. This is mainly due to the fact that it's beginning  to look a lot like Christmas in London and I've been scattered here, there and everywhere across London to cover it for work.

My favourite event of the month was Christmas at Kew, the annual light festival which takes places at the Botanical Gardens. I make a point of going to the press night every year, and can honestly say tht this year is the best so far. Make time to go!

Another highlight was a trip up the rarely-open BT Tower and a chance to watch the sun set over London, prosecco in one hand, camera in the other.



My colleagues have been hard at work this month putting the finishing touches to our book, Londonist Mapped. Some of my features made it into the finished product, which I'm pretty chuffed about, and I'll be referring to myself as a published author for the foreseeable future.

What I've eaten in November


Some friends and I finally made a long-planned pilgrimage to Archie's in Deptford, a bar hidden away in the railway arches, serving up cheese. It's a tiny place, just four tables inside, and feels like stumbling on a little secret. Here's another secret; the mozzarella sticks are one of the best dishes being served at any restaurant in London. Oozy, stretchy, melty cheese covered in crunchy crumbs - it's carb heaven. The melted cheese sandwich had less of a wow factor, being burnt and not all that cheesy. Stick to the mozzarella sticks, my friend. They'll see you right.

In sweet tooth news, I wound up at BRGR.CO in Soho, with five of their delicious freakshakes in front of me at 11 in the morning. I made a how-they're-made video about the freakshakes for work, and then of course, someone had to drink them. I didn't finish them all, but that was one heck of a sugar high to come down from.

What's coming up?


CHRISTMAS! Obviously, but before that, there are two trips away, work Christmas party, ex-colleague's Christmas drinks, Christmas cocktail club and a whole lot more to get through. Watch this space...

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